The Tennis Partner

by Harper Perennial

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  • What is it about sports that makes some men wax as mystical as a Castanedan Yaqui? In the hands of writers such as David
    James Duncan and Norman Maclean, the simple, repetitive motions of baseball, fly-fishing, and golf have acquired almost
    numinous significance. In The Tennis Partner, Dr. Abraham Verghese takes on his own fascination with tennis and comes up
    with as good an explanation as any: "In the way we controlled the movement of a yellow ball in space, we were imposing
    order on a world that was fickle and capricious. Each ball that we put into play, for as long as it went back and forth
    between us, felt like a charm to be added to a necklace full of spells, talismans, and fetishes, which one day add up to
    an Aaron's rod, an Aladdin's lamp, a magic carpet. Each time we played, this feeling of restoring order, of mastery, was

    For both Verghese and his tennis partner, a fourth-year medical student named David Smith, the game is a much-needed
    island of order in the midst of personal chaos. Both men are struggling to rebuild their lives, Verghese undergoing a
    painful divorce, Smith struggling with an intravenous cocaine addiction. For a brief, idyllic period, their friendship
    flourishes; Verghese mentors Smith in the examining room, while Smith, an Australian who competed briefly on the pro
    circuit, ends up Verghese's teacher on the court. But there are dark corners to David's personality, and under the
    mounting pressures of medical school and his increasingly complicated love life, these come to the fore. Even as he
    learns how to inhabit his new life, Verghese watches with horror as his friend relapses, dries out, then relapses again.
    The author of the powerful My Own Country, a chronicle of caring for AIDS patients in rural Tennessee, Verghese once
    again proves that the skills of a good doctor are strikingly similar to those of a good writer. Careful observation,
    compassion, restraint: these are the instruments Verghese uses to stunning effect in The Tennis Partner. A paean to the
    healing powers of tennis, this book is also a moving meditation on friendship, fatherhood, love, addiction, and the
    particular loneliness of physicians. --Mary Park